My gran had a favourite saying: “I’m not Mae West…but I’ll do my best.”
She was nothing like Mae, the saucy starlet with some of the most memorable (and often misquoted) lines in Hollywood history:
“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”
“To err is human…but it feels divine.”
“When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad I’m better.”
Born in Glasgow in 1920 (d. 2008), Elizabeth (“Betty”) Reid née Lillie was tiny and quiet. She had a good sense of humour, but she would never have told a man to get out of his wet clothes and into a dry martini. She spent most of her life in a loveless, abusive marriage. She was the kindest, most genuine person I have ever known.
“I’m not Mae West…” was something she used to say as a kind of self-deprecating thank you in response to praise. I still don’t know where it originates. A Google search brings back an obituary and a couple of discussion forum participants who recall an Auntie or an Irish fellow (“Gasworks Ernie”) known for the phrase. Where did my gran hear it and why did it resonate so strongly with her that she continued to repeat it over the years?
I never thought to ask. I suspect she admired the spirit of a woman confident enough to declare that “you only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
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